The seeds of suicide

By DAVE MYERS

Southwest Kansas Catholic

St. Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, bloodied by the Romans.

Larry Black of Salina as a boy wiped the face of his mother, bloodied by his father’s fists.

It was one incident of many in a troubled childhood that would ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide.

Black, a substance abuse counselor, was one of two speakers at the annual Teachers Conference Aug. 16 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The annual gathering offers a time for teachers and principals from Catholic schools across the diocese to get together to discuss important issues just prior to the start of the school year.

“The seeds of whether or not you’re a bad person … are planted early in life,” Black told those gathered. “I grew up in an alcoholic home. Imagine being seven, bringing home your report card that you are really proud of, showing it to you father and having him smack you because you didn’t mow the lawn? Or having him wake you at 3 a.m., bring you to Mom and saying, ‘This is what a c___ looks like’?”

And then there were those nights when he had to wipe the blood from his mother’s face brought by his father’s fists.

They are challenges mostly invisible to those on the outside, but yet they infect the heart of the young like a virus. It’s a virus that keeps children from having friends—they certainly can’t bring friends in the house, after all. There’s no consistency, Black said; there’s no structure. There’s no safe place—all so needed by children.

“One thing that would have been so great is to have a teacher who would have just listened to me,” Black said. “It is most important to learn what kids are encountering in their lives.”

Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Trina Delgado echoed these statements:

“We’re told that children are an open book, that we are there to fill in the pages. Yet, emotionally, that book may already be written. What we can do is to help them write the next chapter.”

But to be sure, a bad childhood isn’t the only recipe for thoughts of suicide.

“We teach them the three Rs, but we don’t teach them how to live, how to deal with shame …,” Black said.

The proclivity of social media has created a 24/7 boarding house for anonymous insults, inappropriate photo sharing, and a host of anonymous venom.

We have to start with the people who are “face-to-face with the students,” Black said, referring to teachers. “We must get into the face of the child and listen to them. If we don’t have a relationship, they won’t tell us the hard stuff. Healing starts with one human being making time for another human being.”

When Black was growing up, he battled his own thoughts of suicide. Then, one day when he was working at a fast-food restaurant drive-through window, an in-law who worked at a treatment facility came driving through and asked him to apply for a job as a counselor. The drive-through window closed, and a door opened.

With no experience, he applied. He was trained and suddenly found himself counseling those who were going through similar things to what he had experienced.

“My greatest strength is my pain,” he said. “Through my pain, I can help someone with their pain.”